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Zero Waste Sewing


Zero Waste Sewing has seen an increasing rise in popularity, with more and more focus put on sustainability in the fashion industry and in turn home sewing. But is it for everyone?

The reality is, Zero Waste patterns will always have a certain aesthetic- boxy, and oversized. While this style suits some, I would say the majority of sewists will never try this style of pattern as it just does not suit them. 

Typically, clothing patterns are produced from a sketch that is sent to a pattern cutter to be made into a pattern and graded. Most of the time the designer has not considered the pattern pieces as part of their design, just the finished garment. They do not think of the design and pattern drafting process as one. While Indie Pattern designers are the an exception to this, as most companies are a one person operation who will design and draft the pattern, the finished garment is still based on a design on concept.

Zero Waste Patterns are very different to this, in that the pattern is decided by the piece of fabric that the garment will be made into. The features of the design will appear naturally as the pattern is drawn onto the fabric. It is a jigsaw puzzle placed onto the fabric, with designing and pattern drafting happening alongside each other. 


Zero Waste Patterns by Birgitta Helmerson


Zero Waste Sewing in Practice 


I have recently made The Shirt from the new “Zero Waste Patterns” Book by Birgitta Helmersson. As someone who likes the ‘jigsaw’ technical side of sewing and pattern drafting, I find it very satisfying to see these shapes and measurements drawn onto fabric, and later becoming a finished garment. 


This book possibly contains the most advanced zero waste patterns on the market to date. Birgitta Helmersson not only produces sewing patterns but creates a line of garments available to buy from her store and website. The variety of garments she has created using the zero waste technique is vast, including coats, jackets, trousers and jumpsuits alongside the typical skirts, tops and dresses. 


I have to admit this is one book I would be happy to buy and just look at. It is very aesthetically pleasing and clearly written. While browsing through it the shirt pattern stood out. It has a collar, back pleat and interesting back facing design, and only uses 90cm of fabric! That’s right… 90cm! I was shocked and very much


I had a Mind the Maker Organic Cotton Oxford Stripes in Lilac and Plum and was planning to make a boxy shirt and shorts set, so decided this was the perfect opportunity to try this pattern out. The book gives different size options, depending on the width of your fabric, which is not always the case with zero waste patterns. This does bring up the issue that if you trim your fabric down to get a smaller size you are technically wasting fabric, but if you have a garment that is in the end more wearable for you then that is what is most important. 


I love the finished result and will be trying a few more patterns from this book in the future, when it suits the style of garment I am looking for. I feel that fabric choice plays a big factor in how these garments look. A stiffer fabric like the cotton I used will create this boxy shape, while a viscose or cotton lawn would look completely different. 

The Alternatives to Zero Waste Patterns

In contrast to this, I have recently cut a pair of Vivian Shao Chen Bisque Trousers, a pattern I know from experience is hungry on fabric and produces a considerable amount of waste. To make this more sustainable, I had a top pattern pulled out as well to cut from the leftover fabrics as I was going, doing both at the same time to ensure they would fit and there was minimal waste. I had earmarked the Fibre Mood Uzma Top from issue 23 for exactly this scenario, most sizes use less than 1m of fabric and this could be reduced further by using a contrast fabric for the facings. Yes, I did have some leftover fabric, but the pieces were barely big enough to make a scrunchie with. 

If Zero Waste Patterns are not your style, this is a great alternative to minimising your waste as you are sewing. There are lots of other projects that can be used for minimising your waste while sewing. 


Choosing to sew with sustainably made fabrics is another option. The textile industry has many certifications now to ensure the production of these fabrics is sustainable from start to finish. Look out for ‘GOTS Organic’ or LENZING certified Ecovero Viscose or Tencel fabrics. You can find our selection of sustainable fabrics here.


Are Zero Waste Patterns the answer to sustainable sewing?

This is not an easy question to answer. For some yes, and others no. I believe the key to sewing sustainably (or indeed shopping sustainably in general) is to buy and make things you know you will love and wear forever, without getting sucked into the current fads and trends. To get to know your style a little better you can check out our blog “Colour and You” which looks at how different colours suits different personalities, which results in a wardrobe you will love and wear forever. This is the key to sustainable sewing. 

For me personally, I do like the style of garment that zero waste patterns produce, ad as evidenced by the book Zero Waste Patterns designers are coming up with more and more clever ways of creating a variety of garments using the Zero Waste method. I would never exclusively sew with only zero waste patterns, but I will keep them in mind, especially if I see a remnant I like that is 90cm long! (You can shop our remnants here to see if anything catches your eye!)


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